Research warns of environmental risks of supersonic flight – OEMs push back

Research warns of supersonic environmental risks – OEMs push back

New research warns of potential "severe" environmental and health risks from the new generation of supersonic aircraft, but the industry contests the findings.

Research warns of environmental risks of supersonic flight – OEMs push back

Emerging commercial supersonic aircraft could create “severe environmental and health impacts” by 2035, according to new research from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). However, companies working on supersonic aircraft say the research is “misinformed”.

The ICCT study analysed the landing and take-off noise, sonic boom and carbon dioxide (CO2) implications of introducing 2,000 new commercial supersonic transport (SST) aircraft serving 500 cities by 2035.

A 2,000-strong supersonic fleet would translate to approximately 5,000 flights per day at 160 airports located predominately in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia and Oceana, the research says, concluding that: “The impacts, in terms of noise and climate pollution, would likely be severe.”

The researchers say the most heavily impacted regions, including Canada, Germany, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Romania, Turkey and parts of the United States, could be exposed to between 150 and 200 sonic booms per day, or up to one boom every five minutes over a 16-hour flight day.

The study estimates that the fleet of 2,000 aircraft could consume 5 to 7 times as much fuel per passenger as subsonic aircraft on the same routes, and that they would emit 96 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 per year. 

ICCT's Dan Rutherford, lead author of the study, said: "Current supersonic sales targets, paired with ongoing efforts to lift overland flight bans, imply severe environmental consequences,

"Manufacturers should commit to meeting existing standards for new subsonic jets and promise to adopt low boom technologies before further developing their aircraft.”

Aerion, Boom and Spike Aerospace are examples of companies working to develop new supersonic transport aircraft.

Industry contests findings

A spokesperson for Boom told FINN: “Boom is inventing the future of sustainable supersonic commercial air travel. In so doing, we are committed to meeting the UN’s existing CORSIA goal of carbon-neutral growth. In fact, this week we successfully conducted the first of several alternative fuel tests, and we are committed to pushing the envelope to discover new ways to make supersonic travel environmentally and socially sustainable for generations to come. 

“Unfortunately, this report is founded upon two significant, misinformed assumptions regarding Boom. Overture is designed not to be any louder than today’s commercial aircraft during take-offs and landings, and flights reaching Mach 2.2 will only be over water."

A statement from Spike Aerospace said some groups such as the ICCT were pushing an “agenda” without engaging with the industry. The company said some of the assumptions made in the ICCT report are “invalid”.

The statement notes: “Rather than talk with Spike Aerospace, they are more interested in fear-mongering and rejecting any advancement in technology. I imagine they would not raise much funding if they reported that there was nothing to fear.

“We are not out to damage the environment and are working to ensure our jets do not cause the scenario they describe. Instead, they assume we have no interest in the planet or the environment and just want to destroy it with a toy for the rich.”

Spike Aerospace added: “I can’t speak for the other OEMs, but Spike Aerospace’s supersonic jet will NOT create a loud sonic boom as the jet flies full supersonic speed (Mach 1.6). We find it completely irresponsible to advance technology without consideration of the airport community or the environment including wildlife, migrating birds and marine life.”

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